Reforms to an archaic law in the Northern Territory that prohibited sexual assault victims from telling their stories publicly do not go far enough, the leader of the #LetHerSpeak campaign says.
While the Gunner Government celebrated itself last week for passing legislation that will permit sexual assault survivors in the Territory to tell their stories with their real names, the actual legislation means they can only do this after all appeals are exhausted – which could take years.
#LetHerSpeak campaign creator Nina Funnell flagged the loophole, saying the reforms only go halfway.
“To be clear, I think it’s a massive step forward; there’s an improvement,” she told the ABC Drive program on Monday. “I guess we would’ve liked them to go a little bit further because what the change in legislation means is that sexual assault survivors now are able to self-identify in the media and that is a massive improvement from the situation where things were.
“Unfortunately, survivors are only able to self-identify themselves after all appeals are over.”
Under the Sexual Offences (Evidence and Procedure) Amendment Bill 2019 – that was passed in Parliament last week – survivors are only allowed to speak to the media after all avenues of appeal have been exhausted by the offender, which could take years.
Ms Funnell cited a case where a perpetrator of a sexual assault had been found guilty, served his four-year jail sentence and was now out of jail but continues to file appeals that means for as long as the perpetrator keeps appealing, the victim still can’t publicly reveal her story.
“We’re disappointed that for her this change in legislation actually hasn’t changed a single thing in terms of her ability to speak out right now and she still remains silenced,” she said.
“That’s really disappointing for her,” Ms Funnell said. “It’s important to recognize that had a crime happened in a different jurisdiction she would’ve been able to speak out in any point but in the NT, she still can’t. That’s still disempowering and that’s where we would have hoped, they would have gone.”
In other jurisdictions across Australia, survivors are fully entitled to publish their own identities, speak out, and take ownership over their own story. The NT and Tasmania were the outliers in Australia as the only jurisdictions to outlaw sex assault survivors from publicly identifying themselves without first applying to the courts for approval.
Ms Funnelll earlier called for the government to make further amendments to the draft bill in March, saying that it “suffers several weaknesses.” She also said that the amendment had been rushed through due to the pending election.
“It would be a major victory for paedophiles and rapists if it’s passed in its current form as it continues to silence victims for protracted periods of time,” Ms Funnell said in an earlier interview with ABC on March 14.
“It produces a double standard where perpetrators can talk to media from the get-go [after being committed to stand trial] and controls the narrative but their victims need to wait till all avenues of appeal are exhausted.”
NT Attorney-General Natasha Fyles earlier defended the amendments saying that “it would ensure a fair trial for the defendant and to guarantee that there is no prejudice”.
Ms Funnel, who is from New South Wales, has spoken out publicly about her own sexual assault experience which she says was healing to reclaim a sense of ownership and control over what had happened to her. She said she uses her experience as a platform to educate and to try to empower sexual assault victims.
“I can’t talk for all survivors, but I can talk for myself,” she said. “For me it was very important to be able to tell my own story under my real name, because it was a way of sending a very clear message to my perpetrator saying: You didn’t win, you didn’t beat me, I’m not going to live my life ashamed or embarrassed about your choices. I’m not going to be defined by this and I’m not going to be cowered by your actions. You didn’t win.”